In July it will be a year since we packed up our Brooklyn lives and moved to the country. After a summer hiatus in upstate New York, we landed in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
The night before school started.
It seems unimaginable to me now that we slept in an empty house on air mattresses the night before taking our girl to her brand new school. We were winging it, for sure.
Nine months later, here we are. In the span of time it takes for a baby to grow, we have settled in, more or less. The school year is nearly over.
Yet I am still catching my breath. I am still mourning my old life. At night when I should be sleeping I retrace my old walking routes. I miss the cracked sidewalks, the wisteria lined walking bridge, the casual run-ins with friends on the street, at school, in playgrounds. The intimacy of city living.
When people ask me if I miss Brooklyn, I sometimes tell the truth. I try to explain how I miss the geography most of all. I miss knowing my place in the world.
I feel like in some ways we just disappeared. One day we were there, living our lives, going about our usual business, stopping in the same shops, smiling at the same people, playing in the same playgrounds, and then, bam, the next day we’re gone.
We didn’t host a party or send off. I said goodbye to our friends and acquaintances, which had grown thinner over the years after we had our daughter.
There were hugs outside apartment buildings and in playgrounds, a tearful goodbye on the sidewalk. (Anne, I can still see you and Skye strolling off in the opposite direction on Eighth Avenue.) My friend Darla surprised us with this gluten free cake during a final play date with two of my daughter’s best pals.
But for some reason, it still felt like nothing monumental marked this huge change in our lives.
I’ve had a habit of disappearing, of fading away without fanfare. Leaving pieces of myself behind.
I didn’t attend my college commencement, for example. The idea of my parents not being able to attend while being surrounded by other people’s able-bodied mothers and cheerful fathers was too painful for me to accept. So I bailed.
I told everyone I didn’t care, and in some ways that was true, but the day my father picked me up and drove me home, I felt an emptiness spread inside of me, as if there was a hole I could not fill.
Years later I would regret this decision and made a concerted effort to respect and mark milestones in my life.
But leaving Brooklyn happened so quickly. There was the chaos of kindergarten graduation and real estate emergencies (both in Brookyn and New Hope), and the days leading up to our departure flew by.
One day we were there, and the next we weren’t.
I feel like there is a piece of me I left behind, drifting along those Brooklyn streets. I feel the pang of a phantom limb.
But what I miss isn’t tangible. When I dig deeper, I realize it’s much more than those dirty sidewalks, the comfortable geography. I miss myself, the person I was in my 20s and 30s.
I was 26-years-old when I moved to Brooklyn. Shortly after I met my husband in The Tea Lounge, a Park Slope café, which is now a Vietnamese sandwich shop.
That was the fall of 2001, when the smoke from the Twin Towers had only just stopped smoldering, when the flyers of those “missing” people could still be found, tattered and weather worn, on lamp posts.
That tragedy earmarked the beginning of the next phase of my life. Less than three years later I would marry. Another three after that my mother would die. Less than a year later I’d have my first child, a baby girl, born in spring, just as the cherry trees burst into bloom.
Now the cherry trees have blossomed again. In the past few days they have begun to shed in earnest, littering the grass with heaps of pink flowers tinged with brown.
Change has always been hard for me. I am a creature of habit. A Cancer Crab who likes to burrow comfortably in familiar holes (the astrological generalizations of a sensitive homebody suit me).
Part of what I loved about Brooklyn was my comfort there, a feeling of belonging, that perhaps was somewhat forced.
Growing up in central New Jersey in a town called, of all things, Middletown, I never felt a sense of community, or home-iness. I loved my actual house, 80s modern with cathedral ceilings and walls of windows, set up high on a hill in the woods, but not the town.
It was mostly strip malls and movie theaters. The proximity to the beach was the best part, but I could only take advantage of that when I got my driver’s license, and shortly afterwards, I left for college.
I ran away from New Jersey, barely looking back.
Now, I’m in Pennsylvania, right across the river from my home state. On warm nights we walk across the bridge and my children straddle the border while holding dripping cups of ice cream. A tradition we began shortly after we moved here. One that I look forward to continuing.
That’s the thing I must remember. We’re making new tracks here, forging new routes, albeit by car and not by foot. My children will not remember much from our Brooklyn life, other than the stories we tell, the pictures we show. But they will remember this house, this foundation of their young lives. They will put down roots that will grow and blossom like the flowering trees in our yard.
I will put down my own roots here, too, because it’s never too late to make a new home.
Love the introspection and promise found in your words here.
Kristen, thank you so much for this comment. I’m glad promise shone through at the end, it kind of caught me by surprise when I wrote it.
New beginnings can be difficult, but you are moving forward and although this can be tainted from past memories, living fully in the present is always a work in progress. Great post.
You have a way of making me feel like I’m on the right track, Karen. Thank you 🙂
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This is a wonderfully flowing piece of writing Dana. I could really feel your longing and that slow process of finding fertile ground and putting down roots where you are. I know what it is to miss a place, its geography as you say, and focus on finding your way where you are. Love the kids straddling the state line with their ice cream. xx
Lisa, I held onto this beautiful comment all day. Thank you.
I’ve lived in the same small town nearly my whole life. Dana, you showed me what it’s like to move.
That is pretty fantastic to stay in the same small town. Moving is such an upheaval, though sometimes necessary. Thanks for reading Jill 🙂
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Dana so beautifully expressed. I felt the same when I left for my tree change and now I feel so comfortable here I cannot imagine ever going back to live in such a busy place. It will evolve and deepen as you go and your path will open up and you will smile and be forever thankful that you made the change.
Oh Kath, I love how you call it a “tree change,” it sure is for us too 🙂 Thank you for your wisdom, I know you’ve been in my shoes. I love the idea of my life here deepening. I just have to remember to be patient.
Wonderful post. I feel your life moving forward. Thanks for sharing it.
Thank you so much Jacqui!
Boy, that move from Brooklyn to New Hope would be awesome for me but I’m a country girl, although I was born and raised a Jersey girl – without a lot of country!
I’m on the cusp of Cancer and Leo and I tend towards Cancer with change.
I didn’t have a lot of country either, in my part of NJ, and I do love it here, but I think I pushed myself so deeply into the city, as my identity, for so many years, I am just trying to understand this new shape, this new life.
I love the way you weave a tapestry of history, new beginnings and the heartache of endings through your words. I’ve always struggled with moving. It is hard to shift into another place and then attempt to insert yourself into the history of the terrain and relationships around you. But cheers to new beginnings – one day at a time. xo
Thank you Rudri, moving is so hard. I just read your post about your desert move. I wonder if it’s even more disconcerting when you go from one kind of climate to another. And yes to one day at a time. Sometimes I have to remind myself that roots take time to grow.
Very beautiful. I love the way you’re aware of the chapters in your life. We all live many lives and are many people along the way. Someday you’ll feel about your Pennsylvania house the way you felt about Brooklyn. It takes time.
Thank you Laurie, and I think you’re right!
I’ve never made a big move, but a dear friend just moved from Maryland to California. I found myself thinking of her as I read this, Dana. I also found myself thinking of my parents, whose friends are moving south as they retire. So different from your move, yet I suspect with many of the same emotions.
I think moving brings up similar emotions, for sure. There is loss and excitement, nostalgia and adventure, all lining up side by side. Good luck to your parents on their move! Are they leaving your childhood home? That can be hard by proxy 🙂
Oh I feel this so much. I also look back to places I used to live and miss the me of that time but mistake that for missing the place itself. We nearly moved across this country this month and we came so close that I started feeling everything you talk about here – feeling as though I had no real place. But you are right – it’s never too late to make a new home.
Beautiful writing, all of it. Thank you.
As sad as it is, I love the idea of tendrils of our past selves staying in places, lingering forever in old haunts. It makes sense that they’d stay, since so much of who we are at a moment in time does slip away or fade as we move into new chapters. Wishing you the wonder of seasons after which you look in awe at the way you’ve grown up and into your world and your people.
Thank you Amanda, and I must say how taken I am with the idea that a piece of me, “tendrils of our past,” still haunts my old Brooklyn neighborhood. That is actually incredibly comforting.
Wow. This was both beautiful and painful to read. I have a phantom limb of NYC, too. I moved there with a mountain of hope, fell in love, made a baby and moved back across the country to give birth. I haven’t been back yet. I almost feel like it would kill me – the beauty and the pain of the memories and the departure.
Yes, you totally understand! I have been NOT visiting because it hurts too much. We are going this weekend to see my daughter’s friend, and for the first time, I’m not totally dreading it, but I do think it will be painful.